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Using Your Immune System to Stay Well

Experts explain how you can tap the power of your immune system to avoid getting sick.

Fending Off Illnesses continued...

This, he says, not only affects your ability to fend off common illnesses like colds, the flu, or a stomach virus, but it can also play a role in protecting you against catastrophic diseases like cancer or even heart disease.

Additionally, we also have a second protective response known as the "cell-mediated immune system." This immunity involves immune system cells, rather than proteins, which are "helper" or "killer" cells. The cells help our body create memory of past defense against disease protection.

"Your body recognizes that pathogen again, and immediately calls up the memory of the previous infection and sets out to destroy the invader before the disease develops," says neurophysiologist Carl J. Charnetski, PhD. Charnetski is a professor of psychology at Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., and co-author of Feeling Good Is Good For You: How Pleasure Can Boost Your Immune System and Lengthen Your Life."

This mechanism is also the biologic behind vaccines for illnesses such as measles, chicken pox, or hepatitis.

"The concept of inoculating us against diseases is based on deliberately introducing a harmless amount of a pathogen so that our [immune] cells can react, learn, and remember how to produce antibodies enough to fight it," says Charnetski.

Vaccine Recommendations

According to the CDC, the recommended vaccines for children and adolescents include hepatitis A and B, diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis, measles, mumps, rubella, varicella, polio, pneumococcus, and Haemophilus influenza type B -- called HiB.

The CDC says seniors need vaccines against pneumococcus and the flu, as do all adults who may be immunocompromised by diseases such as HIV or cancer. Everyone needs to update their tetanus vaccine once every 10 years, while those who work in high-risk jobs (like hospital workers) need vaccines for hepatitis A and B. The CDC recommends all children age 11-18 get a vaccine for meningitis. It is also recommended for people at elevated risk of getting the disease, such as travelers to countries with high rates of meningococcal disease.

What Affects Immunity

Much like soldiers who grow weary in battle, your immune cells can also lose some of their protective effects when your body is constantly battling poor health habits. As such, it's not surprising that doctors frequently recommend certain lifestyle changes as a way to optimize the function of your immune system.

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